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August 8, 2012

Law of the links

by: Joseph F. Rice

At first glance, the quiet battle against par on the links may not appear to have much in common with the unrelenting fight for justice in the courtroom. Golf is just a game. Litigation can save lives.

But golf has always been more than the bourgeois pastime Mark Twain famously described as “a good walk spoiled.” The modern game was developed by Scottish fishermen trying to spice up the long, perilous journey from the sea. The first “hole” was likely a rabbit hole and the first “bunker” a sandy hollow where sheep huddled against the harsh winds. By 1457, the sport had become so popular among soldiers that the Scottish Parliament of King James II banned it outright fearing the obsession was interfering with military training for the wars against the English. It was not until 1502 and the Treaty of Glasgow that the ban was lifted.

As with all injustice, oppression served only to fortify the righteous. In 1553, the Archbishop of St. Andrews issued a decree giving the local populace the right to play golf on its famed links, and, 65 years later, King James VI declared it the right of all citizens to play on Sundays. This “game” invented by fishermen and popularized by soldiers survived prohibition and became the common man’s first opportunity to compete against society’s most powerful individuals on level ground (figuratively level ground, as anyone who has battled the eight-foot sand traps at St. Andrews will attest).

Now, this great game has finally come full-circle. The 2012 PGA Championship, being held in South Carolina at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course for the first time in its 94-year history, is the natural extension of golf’s blue-collar roots. The 2012 PGA Championship is operated by the PGA of America, an organization focused mainly on teaching and promoting the sport throughout the country. It is the only major championship that reserves a large number of places – 20 out of 156 – for club pros who have dedicated their lives to teaching the sport to others. I am proud to serve on the planning committee and that my law firm, Motley Rice, is supporting this special event.

My personal interactions with golf do not reach all the way back to King James II, but I have always loved the cerebral and strategic aspects of the game. I truly feel that the lessons learned on the golf course have also enabled me to better help my clients in the courtroom. Some of the parallels are obvious:

  • Study your opponent - The only true opponent during a round of golf is the course, and, if you walk to the first tee unprepared, it will beat you into submission. Similarly, it is essential in the courtroom to understand the strengths and weakness of the opposing party’s case, as well as the temperament and inclination of both the judge and jury. At Motley Rice, we use our experience to anticipate the pitfalls and opportunities in the litigation process the same way Dustin Johnson studies every bunker and dogleg long before he ever steps into the tee box.
  • Conduct yourself with integrity - While the arc of history may bend towards justice, the arc of many players’ 3-iron too often bends towards the drink. Nonetheless, integrity is just as important on the links as it is in front of the bench. Despite ample opportunities to play fast and loose with the rules – whether it be the U.S. Golf Association’s Rules and Competition Guidelines or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – trust, honesty and respect are critical in both golf and legal matters. Our clients are in search of justice as much as they seek redress for their injuries, and justice must be served with the highest level of honesty and respect for the American judicial system. It is crucial that the judge and jury respect the methods by which justice is sought in order to fully appreciate the scope of their duty to right the wrongs committed. By comparison, improving your lie with a “harmless” nudge of the ball may seem insubstantial but only serves to diminish your overall skill set and the integrity of your ultimate achievement. The beauty of golf is that feeling of knowing you approached each challenge head-on and achieved your goal through hard work. Litigation is no different.
  • Play to win - Motley Rice takes pride in representing an array of folks who have been harmed, from widows and children of those killed by asbestos exposure to victims of international terrorism and financial fraud. But our clients deserve more than just their day in court. They deserve to achieve justice—for themselves and for the thousands of potential future victims who might be saved from harm because of others’ courage. So, while we respect the adversarial system, we also fight for results for our clients. At Motley Rice, we play fair, and we play by the rules.

Of course, I’m forgetting to mention that, in addition to golf having remarkable similarities to my chosen profession—it’s also just plain fun. The PGA Championship is being held this year at one of the finest golf courses in the country, and I hope many of you are already counting down the days or considering jumping at the last chance to purchase tickets for your family and friends. Fresh air, sunshine, beautifully manicured greens, ocean breeze, plenty of food and drink—the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a few exciting summer days supporting your local economy and rooting for your favorite players as they compete in the ultimate test of mental endurance, survival and achievement. I hope to see you there- I’ll be the guy with the biggest smile and a drink in his hand.